Shoania, Bollywood aur Woh: some (weighty) reflections
"The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us... [D]uring the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty... and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal..."
Naomi Wolf , The Beauty Myth
Recently in Hyederabad there was a big fat wedding the press attended. Indian tennis star (the only female one), the gorgeous Sania Mirza, married Pakistani cricketer (handsome) Shoaib Malik. The affair had become the toast of town and the Indo-Pak angle made it straight out of Bollywood. I’m sure scripts were being optioned already. All fine. Suddenly, however, couple of weeks before the wedding, skeletons tumbled out of the closet, and naturally, given that the press had already paid for front-row seats, it was all over the media.
There were floods and revolutions in India (literally), but the reason why everybody was glued to the telly was ‘Shoania’.
One Ayesha Siddiqui, who steadfastly refused to come in front of the camera, alleged that Shoaib Malik had married her way back in 2002. There was toing and froing on the part of Shoaib Malik until matters came to a head and the Siddiquis, demanding divorce, filed an FIR against Malik and released the ‘nikahnama’ or marriage certificate. His passport was apprehended by the Indian government and diplomatic circles went into a tizzy. The hyperactive media ferreted out a video of a party attended by the Pakistani team at the home of the Siddiquis where Malik talks about his ‘wife’ – who was however absent from the party – and the matter began to get murkier by the minute. Now Malik said that a wedding had occurred, but it was over telephone, he was very young, and it was, in any case, invalid, because – hold your breath – though he had spoken to her for a long time and fallen in love over telecon, she had cheated him by sending him pictures of a more attractive woman.
The channels were debating all day. How much money was changing hands? What were the implications of the legal tangle of Muslim sharia law versus the rights of an Indian citizen faced with deception and ‘emotional trauma’? Yada yada yada. Finally, on April 7, 2010, barely a week before the wedding, Malik confirmed his marriage with Siddiqui and signed the divorce papers.
The matter does raise important questions about the legal rights of the Indian Muslim woman, but what caught my attention was that nobody really commented on the horrifying matter of ‘attractiveness’ as a normative quality that was bandied about in public.
Ayesha Siddiqui, we are told, is obese, and that is the reason she refused to come in front of the camera. The media brought in psychiatrists who, on national TV, analyzed, patronizingly, her behavioral patterns. A ‘friend’ of Ayesha’s came on TV – in her Sunday best – to commiserate that the reason Ayesha was refusing to come out – in spite of the valiant battle criesof the Maliks – was, indeed, (sad look, pregnant pause) that she had put on a lot of weight.
I mean, obviously, there was deception involved. Ayesha had sent him pictures of some PYT type befitting the hunky arm of a rich cricketer, but she turned out to be a ‘fat’ non-model in person. How could that do? And it is obviously v. stupid of me to say things like ‘What about the person that she is – he had talked to her for years, hadn’t he?’ I mean that’s silly, right, to pit some ugly – and horror of horrors, fat – ordinary person against an uber glamourous couple who are ambassadors for peace, sport and incredible gene pool selection?
Naturally, nobody brought it up. It was assumed smirkily that she was a gold-digger fraud.
In all fairness, I don’t know. Maybe she was. But what made it infinitely worse for her – and better for the other party – was that she was a fat gold-digger fraud. ‘Why doesn’t she come in front of the media?’ Shoaib Malik kept asking. Assuming that her appearance in the public eye would make his point self-evident!
All I think is this: if this were Bollywood (and believe you me, Bollywood has churned out many films based on mistaken identity), the sending of wrong pictures would not be considered betrayal, just romantic. A useful device to facilitate the plot. And, ultimately, the (stereotypical) hero would come back to the (also stereotypical) one rich in content (whether letter-writer or phone-converser) and not the one rich in form (beauty, wealth, social standing). Except, naturally, the one with the content is non-fat, beautiful though maybe a poor cousin. All would have ended happily ever after. (And in any case, form always had thousands of (better) options.)
But that is Bollywood, this life. (And – sigh! sigh! – Shoania do make a gorgeous couple. )
However, I wait, with bated breath, for the movie version. Perhaps, it might redeem non-cynical but outdated notions such as ‘love is blind’ or similar. I remain in hope. (Except, Bollywood is also fatist.)
Even so, I remain in hope.
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